The Old-Time Herald Volume 9, Number 2

Feature

Learning Tunes

by Tony Goldenberg and Elisa Westall

Fortune at Brandywine
It all began with “Fortune” at the Brandywine festival in 1976. On a trip back east, a friend asked me to go to the festival with him. A late-start banjo player, I jumped at the chance and immediately lost myself in the richness and intensity of the old-time music scene. Many of today’s popular and well-recorded players were scattered about. At the time, I knew hardly anyone and simply followed my ear. It wasn’t until several years later that I came to know and follow players by name…All the way home I thought about that session and the moment I reached my Mom’s house I listened to the tape again. After I returned to Seattle, I listened to it hundreds of times, trying to understand the sound. “Who is this player? I wondered. When will I ever hear him again?” Thus my efforts to learn fiddle tunes began. Twenty-five years later, I still hear and see him in my mind.

…Several hundred tunes later, I have passed many a morning hour before work with my fiddle and a tape machine. I have often wondered if there isn’t a better way to learn. For instance, how does my current favorite fiddler learn new tunes? Still questioning my methods and unsure of the best advice to offer beginners, I decided to put the question to old-time musicians all over the country. I asked how they choose, learn and listen to tunes. How do they break a tune down and what methods do they use to practice? The responses have been so thoughtful, detailed and articulate, I have quoted many of them at length in this article.

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